It’s time to eat, but which foods you eat at what times can have a huge effect on your energy levels, gym performance and that muscle growth you’re chasing. Stop chasing as we bring the foods – and the gains – to you.
Best proteins: Whey, eggs, salmon
Best fats: Nuts, avocado
Best carbs: Depends on the goal and your appetite. More filling sources are beans, fruits high in fiber and whole grains. More refined carbs like bagels and pancakes work if you struggle to get the calories you need later in the day.
The American Diet Association found that water consumption alongside breakfast make us consume significantly less calories. Guzzling 500mls did the trick. A cup of black coffee can contribute with research showing this can help regulate insulin levels, plus deliver that world-famous, 80mg hit of caffeine to energise your day.
Habitual breakfast eaters consume less. The Journal of Nutrition found 17% less calories were consumed at lunchtime and hunger was reduced. Brekkie is also a good time to alleviate your starving muscles with 30-40grams of protein from whey. A complete source for those also looking to feel fuller until lunchtime, beating out eggs, tuna and soy sources according to research at Tel Aviv University.
For the opposite problem, if you’re struggling to put away enough calories in a day, eggs are ideal in combination with easier to digest carbohydrate sources like banana’s, bagels and the odd pancake. Breakfast is the time to avoid refined, simple carb sources in the absence of a protein source – they provide a rapid rise in blood glucose which just as swiftly brings us crashing back down.
Best protein: Salmon
Best fats: fish oils, nuts
Best carbs: Green vegetables
This is the time of the day where your energy levels can flag so it’s all about shifting to cruise control and maintaining.
The Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research conducted a meta-analysis on lunchtime eating and found that the size and contents of your lunch influences cognitive behaviours. Larger lunches were much more likely to cause impairment of your gray matters abilities, especially in tasks that require memory and thinking skills.
Higher fat lunches were associated with slower, but more accurate responses to these tasks as opposed to a lunch higher in carbohydrates. A smaller snack consisting of proteins and fats looks like the way to go. A portion of omega 3-rich salmon, with fibrous green vegetables and a handful of walnuts (the highest omega 3 containing nut) keeps calories modest, energy stable and provides noggin-enhancing healthy fats.
Best protein: Whey, lean meats, eggs.
Best fats: Minimal
Best carbs: Whole grains, pasta, rice, banana, liquid carbs (if you haven’t had a meal an hour or two pre-workout)
What to eat around your workout? The eternal debate but perhaps the most comprehensive paper on the topic was provided by Alan Aragon and Dr Brad Schoenfeld in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. Recommending that pre and post workout meals are not more than 3-4 hours apart, which causes a nutrient overlap that keeps you anabolic (no, you don’t need that protein shake immediately, bro).
A 70kg male should aim for 28-35 grams of complete protein from whey, egg or lean meats in both pre and post-workout meals. Carbohydrates were surprisingly not found to increase recovery post-workout by the Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise journal but, 15-30 grams ingested pre or intra-workout helped gym performance.
Sources will depend on how close you eat to your workout. 2-3 hours pre-workout, you’ll benefit from more fibrous, slower digesting sources of carbs such as whole grains, pasta’s, rice etc. Within an hour of your workout, you’ll be best going for easily digested, refined sources for swifter energy. Glucose drinks or a fruit smoothie work. (Avoid berries – the fibre slows digestion).
Best proteins: Halibut, beef, pork, chicken, soy, yoghurt
Best fats: Mozarella, cheese
Best carbs: Lentils, fruits, potatoes
As the day draws to a close, the goal here is to ensure that you are creating an environment where your body can recover and start to wind down, being sure to avoid foods that fire up your catecholamines. These are the three excitatory neurotransmitters – dopamine, norepinephrine and adrenaline which get you wired.
Ensuring that your food choices are rich in the amino acid, Tyrosine and GABA (Glutamic acid) will reduce the activity of overexcited neurons. A meal consisting of 170g of halibut, low fat mozarella and lentils provides over 10 grams of brain-calming GABA, as well as over 100% of your daily requirement of Tyrosine.
These foods each also provide muscle building protein, healthy fats and fibrous carbs to keep your energy levels stable rather than bouncing off the walls. Avoid catecholamine-stimulating foods like coffee/tea, chocolate, avocado and alcohol at this time.
Best proteins: Cottage cheese, casein, whey
Best fats: Minimal/Fish oils
Best carbs: Oats
You’re hopefully about to get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, but your muscles certainly won’t be. Keeping them well fed at this time is paramount as you’re at risk of muscle breakdown – you can achieve this with cottage cheese which contains 80% casein protein with 20% whey which is ideal.
After two hours, blood amino acids are elevated by about 32% and by around 35% after 4 hours found a paper in the American Journal of physiology, endocrinology and metabolism. Even remaining elevated after 7 hours.
For a more immediate elevation of amino acids, tipping a scoop of whey into your cottage cheese kickstarts the process much faster. Combining this with a small bowl of porridge, the ideal carb source to release some sleep-inducing melatonin will send you swiftly off to the land of nod…and gains.
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Davy BM, et al. Water consumption reduces energy intake at a breakfast meal in obese older adults. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jul;108(7):1236-9. [Medline]
Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters. Astbury NM, et al. J Nutr. 2011 Jul;141(7):1381-9. Epub 2011 May 11. [Pubmed]
Protein digestion rates
Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Feb;280(2):E340-8.
The digestion rate of protein is an independent regulating factor of postprandial protein retention.
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Staples AW, Burd NA, West DW, Currie KD, Atherton PJ, Moore DR, Rennie MJ, Macdonald MJ, Baker SK, Phillips SM: Carbohydrate does not augment exercise-induced protein accretion versus protein alone. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011, 43 (7): 1154-61. 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31820751cb.
Effects of acute carbohydrate ingestion on anaerobic exercise performance
Lunch sizes and composition